What California’s Naloxone Law Means for Friends and Family of Opioid Addicts

AB 1535, California’s new naloxone law, makes the drug available without a prescription, and that gives friends and family of opioid addicts a crucial method of intervention during an overdose. Despite some criticism of the new law, research supports the drug’s ability to reduce opioid use. That said, naloxone can’t “cure” opioid addiction; to truly enter into recovery, those who struggle with it will need to seek supportive, long-term treatment.

When I opened my eyes, I felt like I’d been ripped out of a dream and thrown into another one. A machine was beeping beside me. I tried to speak, but words came out a garbled mess, and I realized I had a tube down my throat. After a few minutes, I pieced together that I was in a hospital. My worst fears had come to fruition. I had overdosed on OxyContin.

Jake had almost no recollection of the moments after he overdosed, but his friends certainly did. His pupils shrunk to pinpoints, he was unresponsive, and his breathing became erratic. After they’d called for an ambulance, each moment that passed felt like an eternity. They felt helpless, like they’d been forced to throw Jake’s life into the hands of chance.

Jake was lucky: he survived, but he likely owes his life to another drug—naloxone. When administered after an opioid overdose, naloxone reverses the effects of opioids by blocking the receptors they activate, and that means it’s become an increasingly important tool in the battle against opioid addiction. Typically, naloxone is administered by emergency responders, but during the summer and fall of 2015, California took a step that could save countless lives: they made naloxone available without a prescription. The law, AB 1535, gives friends and family the power to intervene in the moments after an overdose, and for people who live with opioid addiction, that can be the difference between life and death.

Naloxone Gives Friends and Family a Means of Intervention

When you love someone who lives with opioid addiction, it’s easy to feel helpless—and even defeated—by how much they struggle. Despite the many ways you offer to support your loved one, their addiction may feel totally out of your control (and theirs). But the widened availability of naloxone puts friends and family in a position of agency—of being able to help a loved one in their most critical time of need. Obviously, an overdose is just about the last thing you want them to go through, but it’s important to acknowledge it as a possibility, and AB 1535 gives you the power to intervene if it happens.

But there’s another way that we need to be thinking about the new availability of naloxone: as a way for people who struggle with opioid addiction to help themselves. By having the drug on hand and making sure that friends and family know both where it is and how to use it, they’re taking the initiative to help themselves. Certainly, there’s a lot of controversy that surrounds this kind of use: some critics believe that using the drug as a kind of failsafe encourages its use rather than mediates it, but there’s no data to support this. In fact, studies that have focused on overdose prevention programs and naloxone distribution found that access to naloxone actually reduces self-reported drug use. Like needle exchange programs, naloxone increases people’s ability to keep themselves safe—not their ability to use.

Hope is Just a Phone Call Away


Expanding the Reach of Treatment

Despite how crucial naloxone can be in the life of someone who struggles with opioid use, it’s not a panacea. It can’t single-handedly treat someone for opioid addiction, though it may save their life in a moment of emergency. To really enter into recovery, your loved one will need to seek long-term treatment, perhaps in a residential treatment program where they can be supported in the process 24/7. That’s where the real work happens: the work of unearthing the truth of the addiction—the thing that drives it—and learning new coping skills that can replace substance use. From there, your loved one can move forward into a future that isn’t propelled by addiction, but by the power they have over their own life.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive rehabilitation programs for people who struggle with opioid addiction as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us today to learn more about how you can support those closest to you in overcoming addiction.